By Jamal Rahman

Don’t despair over things that pass you by nor exult over blessings that come to you.” (Qur’an 57:23-25)

The 13th century Sufi sage Attar tells the story of a powerful monarch who was exhausted by the unpredictable ebb and flow of fortunes, and he yearned for inner peace. He sought counsel from the court sages for words of wisdom that would protect him from being overly exultant and prideful in times of victory and save him from falling into the depths of depression in times of failure. After much reflection, the sages presented him with a ruby ring on which were inscribed four words: “This too shall pass.”

We live in a world of opposites. We enjoy peace and joy because we have also experienced their opposites: anxiety and sorrow. To attain to inner peace, we have to accept and embrace the ten thousand joys as well as the ten thousand sorrows in our life. If we are able to do this, metaphorically we are placed in the center of the wheel of life. The wheel goes up and down—this is the story of our lives—but the center is unperturbed. 

One of the best ways to manage the inevitable cycle of ups and downs in life is to cultivate the spiritual practice of gratitude. The Prophet Muhammad taught us to praise God in times both good and bad. When things were going well he would say, “Praise be to God whose grace brings all goodness to perfection.” In times of difficulty he also said “Praise be to God,” and would simply add, “under all conditions.”

How does one explain the beauty and power of gratitude? The Qur’an explains that everything in the universe, including our soul, is continuously praising and thanking God. When we offer our thanks and praise in good times, we are connecting and celebrating with that universal cosmic vibration. Our personal vibrations are uplifted and we feel exalted. If we continue our practice in times of despair, we are graced with a sense of hope and possibility. Therefore, as often as possible in my daily life, I touch my heart and express gratitude for things small and big.

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